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Motorola Droid 3 (Verizon Wireless) review: Motorola Droid 3 (Verizon Wireless)

Motorola Droid 3 (Verizon Wireless)

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
8 min read


Motorola Droid 3 (Verizon Wireless)

The Good

The <b>Motorola Droid 3</b> features an excellent five-row QWERTY keyboard. The next-gen Droid also offers the latest Gingerbread software, a dual-core processor, and an upgraded 8-megapixel camera.

The Bad

The Droid 3 lacks 4G. Compared with the competition, the smartphone's qHD display isn't that sharp and performance isn't as snappy. Call and picture quality could be better.

The Bottom Line

For Verizon customers who crave physical keyboards, the Motorola Droid 3 offers an excellent one, but the rest of the Android smartphone's improvements fail to impress.

For better or worse, the lifespan of smartphones is decreasing. Barely a year old and the Motorola Droid 2 is already getting replaced by the Motorola Droid 3, which is available now from Verizon Wireless for $199.99 with a two-year contract. Though it lacks 4G support, the Android smartphone offers an improved keyboard, the latest Gingerbread software, a dual-core processor, and a better camera. But is it a must-have upgrade? We don't think so.

The Motorola Droid 3's design is very familiar. It doesn't stray far from previous models and, in fact, more closely resembles the original Droid because of the extra lip at the bottom of the sliding display. Though we understand maintaining a consistent look within a line, we wish Motorola would change up the design just a bit to keep it fresh and interesting.

The Motorola Droid 3 is thinner than previous models, but overall the design is the same.

That said, Motorola has always built solid devices, and the Droid 3 is no exception. The smartphone has a nice, high-quality build with soft-touch finish on back. At 4.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and 5.9 ounces, it's a handful but thinner than before. Motorola claims the Droid 3 is the world's thinnest full QWERTY smartphone, but the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide is also 0.5 inch thick.

The smartphone features a 4-inch qHD (960x540-pixel resolution) display. Normally, this would be good news, but as on the Motorola Atrix 4G, the arrangement of subpixels makes for a picture that's less sharp. That's not to say that the display isn't clear or bright--it is--but pictures and text aren't as smooth, as pixels are more visible on the Droid 3's screen. As a result, it looks subpar compared with the competition.

On the bright side, the Droid 3 has an excellent QWERTY keyboard. To access it, you push the screen to the right, and the slider mechanism is quite strong. For the most part, the screen doesn't move around even in its closed state. Unlike past Droid models, the Droid 3's keyboard has a dedicated number row, so you no longer have to press the Alt key. The rectangular buttons are a good size with a roomy layout, so it feels comfortable to use. The keys feature a nonslippery texture and have a slight bump to them, so they're easy to press. There's also a good onscreen keyboard as well.

The Droid 3's QWERTY keyboard is excellent and adds a dedicated number row.

Below the screen, you get four touch-sensitive buttons for the menu, home, back, and search functions. On the left side of the phone, you'll find a Micro-USB port and an HDMI port; there's a volume rocker on the right side. A power/lock button and 3.5mm headphone jack are on top of the device, with the VGA camera and LED notification just below the latter in the upper right corner of display. The 8-megapixel camera and flash are located on back, but alas, there's no dedicated camera key.

The Motorola Droid 3 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a SIM card, and reference material.

Software and apps
The Motorola Droid 3 ships running Android 2.3 Gingerbread with Motoblur software. The latter is Motorola's custom skin for the Android platform and features five home screens that you can customize with various widgets and shortcuts. Though you can adjust the size of the widgets, Motoblur still feels rather clunky compared with something like HTC Sense or the stock Android experience, so we always try to minimize our use of it.

We do, however, like the dock at the bottom screen where you can assign four of your favorite apps for easy access across the five panels. The software also has a feature similar to HTC's leap screen where you can hit the home button from the main home screen to get thumbnail views of the various screens, so you can easily jump from one to the next.

Meanwhile, the main apps are arranged in a grid format spread across pages, so that instead of scrolling down to see the entire list, you can now view the apps by swiping left to right or vice versa. At the top of each page is a shortcut to the Android Market, as well as a pull-down menu that gives you access to groups of apps, including recently used, downloaded, user-created groups, or Verizon apps.

Speaking of Verizon apps, there's no shortage of them, as the Droid 3 comes preloaded with V Cast Music, V Cast Tones, V Cast Videos, and VZ Navigator, among others. We do appreciate the inclusion of some apps, such as Skype Mobile, the Quickoffice suite, the Amazon Kindle app, and Slacker, but it would still be nice to have an option to uninstall the ones we don't want. Also, for those who care, the Droid 3 comes with a locked bootloader, so you can't load any custom ROMs.

Unlike the Droid 2, which came in a second global model, the Motorola Droid 3 offers world-roaming capabilities from the get-go. Using dual-mode technology, the smartphone runs on Verizon's CDMA/EV-DO Rev. A network domestically, but once abroad the phone will automatically detect and switch to a GSM network, so you can continue to use voice and data. You can do so in more than 200 countries, with 3G speeds in more than 125 countries. The handset comes with a SIM card preinstalled, but Verizon has a policy that it will have to unlock the SIM, provided that you've been a customer for more than 60 days and are in good financial standing. Unlocking the SIM gives you the freedom to swap out the SIM card for, say, a prepaid SIM you purchase from an international carrier.

Other phone features include a speakerphone, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. Stereo Bluetooth support, Wi-Fi, and GPS are also available to you. Unfortunately, as we noted before, the Droid 3 does not support Verizon's 4G LTE network. It does, however, offer mobile hot-spot capabilities for up to five devices. To use this feature, you will need to sign up for a Mobile Broadband plan, which costs $20 per month for 2GB of data (overage fees are 5 cents per megabyte).

It's an extra expense on top of your monthly voice and data plan, but it might be worth it to those who work on the road a lot. The Droid 3 actually has even more features that might appeal to the business user, including advanced security features, such as device and SD card encryption, remote data wipe, and complex password support. The handset also ships with GoToMeeting for Android, which allows you to join online meetings, and Citrix Receiver, an application and desktop virtualization app.

Despite the upgraded 8-megapixel camera, picture quality wasn't all that impressive.

Last but not least, the Droid 3 is equipped with an 8-megapixel camera with autofocus, an LED flash, and 1080p HD video capture. The camera app has numerous settings and editing options, including effects, eight shooting modes or scenes, panoramic mode, and brightness settings. Picture quality is decent, but it could definitely be better. Objects looked pretty sharp, but in low-light situations the image tended to look a bit gray and colors weren't very vibrant. Video quality was good for a camera phone. Clips were generally clear, with some moment of graininess.

The Droid 3 offers 16GB of internal memory and an expansion slot. You can also share and view content from your phone on your HDTV via DLNA or the built-in HDMI port (HDMI cable not included).

We tested the dual-mode Motorola Droid 3 in New York using Verizon service and call quality was OK. On our end, we didn't notice any background noise, but voices sounded muffled. It was never bad enough that we couldn't understand what our friends were saying, but it definitely muddied the overall experience. Our friends were generally happy with results on their end, though some reported a slight buzzing in the background.

Motorola Droid 3 call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone quality was pretty good. The audio was clear, and voices sounded true to life. There was also enough volume to hear our callers in a noisier environment, but friends said we sounded far away. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active headphones and had no problems making calls and listening to music.

Verizon's network provided good 3G coverage here in New York. We didn't experience any dropped calls during our testing period, and though the lack of 4G is a disappointment, the 3G data speeds weren't bad. CNET's full site came up in 16 seconds, and the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN loaded in 6 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. High-quality YouTube videos took a few seconds to load, and played back without interruption. We also streamed media from V Cast video and experienced similar results, though video quality could get a bit murky at times.

The Droid 3 is equipped with Texas Instrument's OMAP 4430 1GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM. Overall, the smartphone was responsive and handled most tasks without problem. That said, it didn't feel as snappy as some other dual-core phones on the market today. The handset wasn't as quick to launch apps, and sometimes there'd be a hiccup when switching between tasks. There was also an instance in which the smartphone rebooted itself after we opened and closed the screen.

The Droid 3 ships with a 1,540mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 9 hours and up to 12.5 days of standby time. The smartphone fell an hour short of its promised talk time in our battery drain tests, but still managed to pump out an impressive 8 hours of talk time on a single charge. Anecdotally, we've been able to go a full day before needing to recharge. We will update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the Droid 3 has a digital SAR rating of 0.77W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility rating of M4/T3.

The Motorola Droid 3 isn't a bad phone. In fact, it's pretty solid. The problem is that while all the improvements make it sound like a nice upgrade to the Droid 2 in theory, it doesn't really deliver in real-world performance. Motorola doesn't take full advantage of the qHD display; the 8-megapixel camera offers decent but not great picture quality; and despite the addition of a dual-core processor, the smartphone didn't feel any faster than a single-core phone. This, plus the lack of 4G, doesn't make it a standout in today's market or a necessary upgrade if you're coming from the Droid 2. That said, if you're upgrading from a feature phone or are looking to switch from a BlackBerry, the Droid 3 is a decent choice.


Motorola Droid 3 (Verizon Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7